December 1, 2015


The Myth of the Lying Muslim: 'Taqiyya' and the Racialisation of Religious Identity (Shakira Hussein, 11/30/15, ABC Religion and Ethics)

[M]uslims living in the West have experienced the racialisation of Muslim identity, both in the form by which identity is ascribed to them and in the nature of their response. Muslims have been subjected to a series of moral panics over issues ranging from terrorism to sexual violence, through to the role that they are said to play in suffocating free speech. Concepts supposedly derived from Islamic theology are often cited as evidence that Muslims are inherently hostile Others.

Consider the concept of taqiyya - or "action of covering, dissimulation" - which can be traced back to internal Muslim sectarian conflict and "denotes dispensing with the ordinances of religion in cases of constraint and when there is a possibility of harm." Defined by The Oxford Dictionary of Islam as the "precautionary denial of religious belief in the face of potential persecution," in academic scholarship it is most commonly described as a Shi'a justification for false denials of faith told as a means of surviving Sunni persecution.

Allegations of taqiyya still feature in intra-Muslim disputes, particularly those across the Sunni/Shi'a divide but also between secular and Islamist political parties. Such allegations have arisen in Turkish political discourse, where Kemalist politicians and commentators have accused religious movements and political parties of engaging in taqiyya (or "takiyye"), concealing their Islamist agenda beneath a democratic facade.

However, in post 9/11 anti-Muslim discourse, taqiyya has been redefined as a religious obligation for Muslims to lie to non-Muslims not simply for survival, but in order to serve the expansionist agenda of their religious community. According to the taqiyya-focused strand of the anti-Muslim moral panic, Muslims stand condemned for their participation in this hidden agenda even when no criminal or anti-social behaviour is apparent.

Taqiyya scare-mongering has a strong online presence and is beginning to enter mainstream media as a counterpoint to reassurances from "moderate" Muslims that their religious community poses no threat to non-Muslims. This paranoia reaches its logical conclusion with the "secret Muslim" rumours surrounding U.S. President Barack Obama. Obama's visible otherness as the first black President is not considered a legitimate target in mainstream political discourse. Instead, he is under fire for his alleged invisible, clandestine identity as a Muslim. The fact that Obama's father and stepfather were at least nominally Muslim and that he spent part of his childhood in Indonesia is cited as evidence for such claims. Despite his public identity as a churchgoing Christian, his family links with Islam have generated allegations that he is really a secret Muslim and his presidency is part of a sinister Islamic plot.

Other prominent public figures have faced equally far-fetched accusations of taqiyya. After Democratic congressman Anthony Weiner was forced to resign following revelations that he had sent explicit photographs by text message to various young women, neoconservative public relations consultant Eliana Benador speculated darkly in a blog post (later removed) for the Washington Times website on why Weiner's Muslim wife had chosen to maintain her marriage to her disgraced Jewish husband: "It is also important, when looking at this situation, to remember that observant Muslims practice Taqiyya, an element of sharia that states there is a legal right and duty to distort the truth to promote the cause of Islam."

While this is an extreme example of the racialisation of Muslims, it is part of a wider trend in which Muslims are not criticised for their beliefs, as much as they are assigned spurious beliefs on the basis of a sometimes very tenuous religious affiliation.

Posted by at December 1, 2015 6:45 PM